Centuries after the apostles died, some church leaders began to teach that the Catholic Church (i.e. the Christian Church) at the time was the new Israel.
What is the problem with this tradition?
The message in the New Testament is that Jews become spiritual Jews and Gentiles become spiritual Gentiles. This is evidenced by the way the apostles continued to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles and between the church (all Christians) and the nation of Israel.
1. Spiritual Jews - Physical descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, true Jews who believe in the Messiah, a remnant, circumcision of the heart, the first followers of Christianity.
4. Non-spiritual Gentiles - Physical descendants of other nations, pagans, those who do not love God or believe in the Messiah.
When we carefully look at the situation in Romans 2:17-29, however, Paul is referring to Jews. He is distinguishing between two kinds of Jews - spiritual and non-spiritual Jews. The audience is Jews, not Gentiles. ¨Now, you who call yourself a Jew¨(Rom. 2:17). Paul's point is that true Jews are circumcised on the inside, not just the outside.
Even though Manhee Lee supports the Spiritual Israel concept, in one of his books, he mentions in passing that there were two kinds of Jews in physical Israel. Notice he cites Rom. 2:28,29. ¨In Physical Israel there were inward Jews and outward Jews (Rom. 2:28,29)¨ (Creation of Heaven and Earth, p. 102).
In the first century, it was decided that the Gentile followers of Christ did not have to become Jews. They could remain Gentiles and still be followers of Jesus. However, they were not labeled ¨spiritual Jews¨. In Ac. 15:23, they are called ¨Gentile believers¨.
In summary, a Jew who is a follower of Jesus becomes a spiritual Jew. A Gentile who follows the Lord becomes a spiritual Gentile. They are both spiritually renewed on the inside and one in Christ, but they do not change their ethnicity. God's purpose is to create a new kind of human from both Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:15,16).
Gentiles, by definition, are not physical descendants of Abraham. However, we can be considered spiritual offspring by having the same faith as Abraham. Paul's point is that Gentiles, when they exercise their faith in Christ, imitate Abraham, the spiritual father of the Jews. Just like Abraham was justified by his faith and it was credited to him as righteousness, Gentiles can be as well (v. 8). The faith of the Gentiles in Abraham's seed (the promised Messiah) makes them heirs too. But, Paul is not telling Gentiles that they become physical offspring of Abraham just like a spiritual woman does not become a spiritual male when she believes. Although we become spiritually related to Abraham as spiritual Gentiles, we still do not change our ethnicity and become spiritual Jews.
Yes, we are all spiritually one in Christ. However, the physical and ethnic distinctions still remain. A spiritual male in Christ remains a male, not a spiritual woman. The ¨oneness¨ is spiritual and makes no believer spiritually superior to others. However, this does not eliminate the physical, national, or social distinctions of a person. A Mexican who believes in Christ does not become a spiritual American or Jew. Likewise, a Gentile who believes in Christ becomes a spiritual Gentile, not a spiritual Jew.